Why MySpace Is Launching So Much Original Studio Content

MySpace may be facing questions about whether it’s still culturally relevant enough to retain users and attract ad dollars, but the social network is winning on at least one front: It appears to be the go-to network for studios and content companies premiering original programming. Whether it can turn that advantage into a reliable revenue stream remains to be seen.

The social net recently debuted King Rat, the Heath Ledger-directed video for the new album from indie rock band Modest Mouse. And earlier this year, Endemol partnered with it to launch the reality TV-style series Get Married On MySpace.

In the latest example, Paramount will premiere the 10-episode thriller Circle of 8 exclusively on MySpace in October, complete with a social and mobile game that will let viewers hunt within the content for clues that ultimately help move the plot forward. While some data has shown that user engagement on MySpace overall is down, it is still the top social network in both video streams and time spent watching clips–and that’s an obvious selling point for studios. “They’re one of the biggest video consumption sites on the net,” said Keith Quinn, SVP of creative development and production at Paramount Digital Entertainment.

Mountain Dew is Circle of 8’s sponsor; Quinn said the soda brand came in near the beginning of the production process. Neither side would talk about the whether MySpace is getting a rev-share. But as one of Paramount’s first attempts at developing its own original video series, it’s a major endorsement for MySpace, particularly since the studio doesn’t have the built-in online audience that fellow Viacom (NYSE: VIA) siblings like MTV or Comedy Central have.

“A number of studios are embracing this model of getting an advertiser to be the financier of the show, and then cutting the revenues with the distributor,” said Arash Amel, research director, digital media at Screen Digest. “And MySpace is probably better positioned for those deals than any of the other social networks or UGC services, because it has always aligned itself with entertainment brands”.

But, he added: “We’re still in the genesis phase when it comes to making money from this content — so you have to look at each deal and each relationship separately to figure out how lucrative they ultimately are for MySpace.”

The webisodes will be packaged into a full-length feature that includes all the user-picked plot twists once Circle of 8 has run its course; Quinn said it will be distributed digitally, but didn’t disclose through which outlets. iTunes, Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), and YouTube — with its click-to-buy links — are the most obvious choices, though Paramount could tap MySpace to sell the complete series as well. Release.